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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: July ::
CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1417  Tuesday, 13 July 2004

[1]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Jul 2004 05:52:14 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1413 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

[2]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 13 Jul 2004 03:32:37 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1413 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Jul 2004 05:52:14 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1413 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1413 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

Holger Schott write, "I agree with Gabriel: Bill Arnold is obviously
bluffing."

OK: like Gabriel who blows his horn with a lot of sour notes, you would
not know *obvious* even if you could paraphrase Robert Frost's *Bereft*
because you are "blinding striking" and "Missing"!  And you are not God.
  You obviously cannot translate, yourself, the passage in question.  Do
you not understand *paraphrase* as in poetry?  And why should prose need
paraphrase?  And if prose need paraphrase, does that not imply it be
murky, dense like a swamp?

OK: why don't *you* tell me how much is in the "bluffing" pot?

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Tuesday, 13 Jul 2004 03:32:37 -0400
Subject: 15.1413 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1413 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

I am grateful to Holger Schott and Gabriel Egan for replying seriously
to my questions, though it may come as no surprise to either that their
responses do not seem to me adequate answers.

To begin with, the redundance I see in the phrase "the intertextual
transference of text between signifying systems" can perhaps be made
clearer in this way: "intertextual transference of text" seems to mean
the same thing as "transference of text between signifying systems".
Taking this jargon, you might say, at face value, either truncated
phrase says the same thing, and both sound like quotation, a
"transference of text". I am told that to interpret these words in this
way simply displays my ignorance. I must not take these words to say
what they most obviously seem to say, but should know that instead they
say something different. If I want to know what that is I should go to
another web site and educate myself in their true meaning.

Holger Schott says that I will learn, on further study, that "the kind
of agency implied by 'quotation' is precisely what the notion of
intertextuality seeks to undermine." This explanation puzzles me, since
I don't know what "kind of agency" the word "quotation" implies. If I
quote Hamlet on this list am I acting as an agent of quotation? Does
undermining that notion mean I do not have the ability to quote Hamlet?
Should I go to another website to learn the proper meaning of this use
of "agency"? Perhaps so, but my criticism here is that Holger presents
this as a sentence which I ought to understand. He seems to think it is
clear. This is one problem with jargon. People get so used to using it
that they cannot even recognize it as jargon any more, not well enough
anyway to speak to outsiders.

As it happens, I'm an outsider by choice, for reasons that also have to
do with the supposed content of this jargon. I do not mean to say that
all jargon is bad or unjustified. Some jargon is bad because of its
quality and sometimes it gets worse because of its quantity. That this
passage is, as Holger says, "chock-full of terminology" does not imply
that specialists cannot use everyday words in specialized senses.
Quantity at the chock-full level tends to show a love of jargon, or
maybe a complacent recourse to jargon, which by excluding outsiders
tends to cut off discussion. This may have some advantages. The fewer
people can understand what you are saying the fewer people might find
something wrong with it. Much of this discourse seems to me like punk
rock: the words don't matter that much--it's the attitude that counts.
That's why, for example, the redundancy of the above mentioned phrase
creeps in. It indicates carelessness, perhaps laziness, in the writer,
as well as in readers who find it "lucid"--a description that seems to
me an excellent example of Newspeak. The explanation that "they are
using the two terms more or less synonymously in an attempt to avoid
repetition" seems a bit odd as a defense against the charge of redundancy.

If I should keep in mind "that neither text nor signifying system refers
simply to strictly linguistic structures" what then do these terms refer
to?  Here we come closer to the problem of content. A more revealing
question might be, to what do these terms not refer? As I understand it,
to Kristeva all the world's a text. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, there
is no such thing as originality. Perhaps I should add that there is no
such thing as clarity either, though maybe those who believe this ought
to explain how they come to praise this passage as "lucid". Does it not
strike anyone that this Platonic absolutism of "all" and "nothing"
permits of no critical distinctions to speak of? Or am I taking these
words too seriously? Perhaps I'm not in the properly ludic spirit of things.

A more specific objection to the content of this passage is its
complacent assumption that Freud is our gospel. So we can be informed,
pompously, about "fundamental signifying processes in the
unconscious"--as if the unconscious, since Freud, were perfectly well
understood, at least by the cognoscenti. I find Shakespeare depicting
characters who give evidence of unconscious thoughts and feelings,
Hamlet among them. Trying to describe what's going on here is difficult
and always tentative. Freud took this useful idea of the unconscious, I
think, largely from Nietzsche, and created a system of awesome
specificity which unfortunately has much in common with a house of
cards. Anyone interested in serious criticism of Freud could be directed
to a number of websites, easily located. One book that would be a good
beginning is The Memory Wars by Frederick Crews. On the subject of
literary jargon, his Postmodern Pooh seems to me one of the
indispensable works.

Gabriel Egan says intertextuality is not the same as quotation. But
neither the text quoted nor I used the word "intertextuality". The
phrase was "intertextual transference of text". This, as Holger pointed
out, does not mean what it seems to mean, on the surface, to outsiders.
I'm saying that it sounds like quotation. If it isn't, what is it? Must
I simply be directed to go to another web site and study up? If I do,
will the answer turn out to be that all the world's a text?

Aside from the conceptual problems of the psychoanalytic enterprise, the
great objection to it from a literary point of view, I would say, is
illustrated by Gabriel Egan's reply (whether he believes what he's
saying or not). It produces many misleading and mistaken statements
about Shakespeare.  Shylock's "threatening to cut into Antonio's chest
in MV could be said to be displacement upwards of castration anxiety."
First of all, whose anxiety are we talking about here? Second, is the
assumption that castration is a fate worse than death? Third, in my
opinion, this is a red herring that leads away from what's happening in
the play. Not that this play does not allude to the unconscious--but
that's another story.

As for the utensils, I don't recall seeing Shylock taking them to the
feast.  Could Gabriel supply the reference? I also wonder about the
phrase "were Antonio to have had a bad dream" about these utensils. The
familiar proscription on treating characters as people would seem to
apply in spades to psychoanalytic criticism, yet here what a character
might have done somehow comes into it too. I don't object to talking
about characters as people, on the initial assumption that Shakespeare
was depicting them as people. Some hints he gives about the characters
can be usefully followed, though that's a delicate business that can
easily lead to the critic's fantasy masquerading as Shakespeare's
intention. All these questions are subject to argument in particular
cases. To end, finally, that's where I find the greatest problem with
"Theorists". It's not that their theories become so abstract they mean
nothing, or that the meanings of their words slide around in so
undisciplined a way that they mean nothing. It's that the particular
things they say about particular plays are so often wrong. Spin whatever
theories you like, but only when you get down to the play itself (if I
may speak so loosely) does the rubber meet the road--or, more often
these days, fail to meet it.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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